State Historian Keith Petersen said the mural ( that depicts two armed white men about to lynch a shirtless American Indian) has been controversial since it was unveiled in 1940 but not because of the subject matter. "People thought it was just bad art," Petersen said complaints gradually centered around the lynching, coming to a head in 2007, when the Legislature moved in. Some lawmakers had favored removing the painting until representatives of the area's five Native-American tribes came up with the idea for the plaques, which describe the violent clash of native and white cultures in the pioneer settlement of the Boise Valley. "You don't want to whitewash history or erase it," he said.
"Art is always in a political context," Gary Casteel said. "Even Monet's paintings of pretty lily fields could make a political statement if you are an environmental activist."
Stanford University art historian Michael Marrinan said works of art often have suffered from changing attitudes. Heroic paintings of Napoleon were displayed for years in the Louvre, taken down when political fortunes changed and then hung again when a new regime came into power. "Anytime a work is political, it is going to have a shelf life," he said. "We may not agree with it anymore, but it is part of our heritage."
Despite the stereotypical images in the mural in his courtroom, Wingate said he would like to see it preserved, but it does not belong in a courtroom, where everyone should feel equal. "On the other hand, it should not be destroyed because it is our history," he said.
"...for whatever reason — its illuminated red eyes or hyper-realistic anatomy — "Mustang" has sparked intense reactions pro and con, and those responses can be seen as a total validation of the piece.
Meaningful art is never neutral or innocuous. It provokes thought and stirs emotions. It irritates. It inspires. It can be seen a dozen times and still offer new dimension on the 13th viewing.
If there is any lesson to take from this debate, it is this: Art matters. And public art — work outside museums in the everyday world — matters not just to art cognoscenti but also to ordinary people like Hultin who don't necessarily have strong backgrounds in the field.: